Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Sharing Links in iOS 11

Ricky Mondello, in a Twitter thread of notable Safari 11 improvements on MacOS and iOS (via Michael Tsai):

Safari on iOS 11 will share the canonical link for a page, which can improve the experience of sharing a “mobile” website.

This is a great feature. Unfortunately, it is restricted to Safari; Apple News still shares apple.news links, which I find problematic.

For whatever reason, Apple has designed their News URLs to be unintelligible strings of random characters — for example, https://apple.news/Aj3TLC1DoQ7ubOyx_-Kwc9A. That means that the publication and article topic are completely obscured. Do you know that the link I pasted here will be safe for work, or from a reliable publication, or cover a topic you’re interested in? In short, can you trust that link? I certainly don’t think that’s possible.

Publications on Apple News have similarly sketchy-looking URLs. Pixel Envy’s is https://apple.news/TAjcS0c5sRV2HYftzmJ6UMQ. Unlike article URLs, those links don’t redirect to the publication’s website on desktop computers; visiting that link on my desktop simply displays a notice that it’s only available on Apple News.

To make matters worse, iOS 11 seems to have a bug where choosing to copy an Apple News link from the sharing sheet creates two iterations of that link as one which, of course, breaks the link.

This is a solvable problem. Let’s assume that Apple would prefer to share apple.news links rather than the canonical URL for marketing purposes — it’s not a great reason, and I believe that the canonical URL should always be shared, but let’s just stick with that argument. Let’s also assume that the sharing sheet bug will be fixed. Apple could update apple.news links to include the publication name and article title, plus a unique article ID to prevent cases of overlap as this would likely be an automatically-generated URL. For example, the link above could be apple.news/national-geographic/[unique-ID]/alligators-attack-and-eat-sharks. Of course, publications would simply be the first-level directory — apple.news/national-geographic/ — and should redirect to the publication’s regular website when the Apple News app isn’t detected.

I filed this as a bug back when Apple News launched and it was closed rather quickly as a duplicate. That was about two years ago. I’m sure there is a very sound technical reason why Apple News shipped with such a terrible URL design originally, and probably a decent reason — scale, perhaps? — why it hasn’t been fixed since. But it ought to be, and soon.